The report seemed to be heralding the death of the ‘swift pint’ and the wet-led pub. As someone who runs a traditional, wet-led community pub, I found this statistic not particularly surprising, but certainly depressing.
While there is obviously nothing wrong with food in pubs and, of course, many tied pubs have little alternative, for me, a pub that majors on food will struggle to deliver on community focus.
At the Salutation Inn, we don’t serve food in the evening because we want an informal environment where people are comfortable sat round, drinking, chatting, and mingling between groups. Mingling is not really something one does when dining.
While many people told me we wouldn’t survive at the Sally without doing food, I actually believe the opposite — we have flourished by not doing so. The convivial nature of the Sally is what makes it so compelling and the pub wouldn’t be as successful if it was scattered with tables of diners.
When the Sally is in full swing, each bar packed with a buzzing crowd of locals, it makes me wonder, if the pub wasn’t here, what would all these people be doing?
Would they have met the person they are now chatting to? Would they make the effort to meet up and socialise? Some might host the occasional dinner party or barbecue but, more than likely, a large number of the relationships forged at the pub wouldn’t exist.
A social hub is doubly important in a rural area. There are many isolated people living alone who need a pub that welcomes, rather than marginalises, those who just come in for a pint and a chat. With rural post offices and village shops closing almost as fast as pubs, rural amenities in which communities can gather are becoming fewer and farther between.
A serious worry for pubs like the Sally is the threat of the drink-driving limit being cut. Those who drink one pint of beer and drive home will be breaking the law. The change would be catastrophic for wet-led rural pubs and the communities they serve with the most vulnerable people suffering disproportionately.
The change would also have a significant cultural impact. Heading out for a pint of real ale is usually worth the effort of leaving a warm couch; heading out for a half is not for most people.
Just to stay open, most rural pubs, or at least the ones that haven’t already done so, will have to turn to food and, most likely, that community focus will be diluted and our culture, heritage and communities damaged.
Peter Tiley is licensee at the Salutation Inn, Ham, Gloucestershire